Product stuffing apparatus and method
Semi-automatic stuffing machine, casing brake and turret assembly
Apparatus for the production of meat products
Process for filling tubular casings
Collagen film and netting packaging system and method
Shirred packaging tube
Packaging device with loop attachment mechanism and skin brake
ApplicationNo. 12835446 filed on 07/13/2010
US Classes:452/30SAUSAGE MAKING
ExaminersPrimary: Price, Thomas
Attorney, Agent or Firm
Foreign Patent References
International ClassA22C 11/00
DescriptionFIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to apparatus, systems, methods and computer program products that stuff or fill product into casings that enclose products therein. Certain embodiments may be particularly suitable for packaging products in ediblefilm formed into a casing shape in situ and held in netting.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
It is known to use edible collagen film to cover semi-solid sections of meat during processing to form a smoked meat product that gives the appearance of a solid meat muscle, such as a boneless ham. One example of a known prior art apparatusused to form a smoked meat product is the "TCM2250" pumpable model from Tipper Tie, Inc., located in Apex, N.C.
Generally described, during production of one example of a pumpable smoked meat product, pork muscles are cut into small portions or pieces. The pieces are tumbled together with seasonings and additives such as water and salt. During thetumbling process, protein is exuded from the pieces of meat. The protein becomes a binding agent for the final product. The tumbled semi-solid product is pumped into an edible casing prior to cooking and the protein binds the pieces of meat together sothat when cooked the process yields a solid product which can be sold as a boneless ham or sliced product.
Despite the foregoing, there is a desire for alternative automated production apparatus that can provide one or more of increased production capability, reduced footprint or floor requirement, improved automation and/or more product shapecontrol over conventional models.
SUMMARY OF EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION
Embodiments of the present invention provide apparatus, systems, devices, methods and computer program products configured to form casings in situ from (typically edible) flat sheet roll stock into generally tubular casing material and seriallyenclose quantities of a product in segments of the casing and in segments of netting in an automated or semi-automated manner.
In some particular embodiments, a frame assembly can be configured to selectively mount to an existing pumpable system with the roll stock mounted to reside above the horn and a netting chute mounted to the frame assembly to allow for productionof in situ edible casings. In some embodiments, the frame assembly can pivot laterally with a pivoting horn.
Certain embodiments are directed to methods for producing encased products. The methods include: (a) positioning a portion of a generally tubular horn having a product channel therethrough inside a generally tubular netting chute; (b) formingan edible generally flat roll of casing material into a generally tubular casing that extends in an axial direction about the horn; (c) pumping food emulsion through the horn; (d) encasing a desired amount of the food emulsion in a portion of thegenerally tubular casing material as the food emulsion exits the horn; (e) automatically repetitively drawing short lengths of a sleeve of netting material held on the netting chute forward at a discharge end portion of the netting chute during thepumping step; and (f) enclosing the encased food emulsion in the netting material.
Other embodiments are directed to apparatus that engage a filler/product pump and supplying elongate edible casings for encasing products therein. The apparatus include: (a) a horn having a length, an outer surface and an internal productchannel extending therethrough; (b) a forming collar in communication with the horn, wherein, in operation, the forming collar is configured to cooperate with the horn to direct planar casing material to take on a generally tubular shape over an outersurface of the horn while product travels through the internal channel; (c) a netting chute sized and configured to receive a portion of the horn therein, the netting chute configured to hold a sleeve of elastic netting material thereon; and (d) anautomated derucker operatively associated with the netting chute whereby the derucker is configured to automatically travel through a derucker stroke cycle comprising upstream and downstream locations to pull segments of netting material toward adownstream end portion of the netting chute while product is pumped out of the horn.
In some embodiments, the apparatus includes an edible, roll of casing material that is in communication with the forming collar. The edible roll of casing material can overlap to form a bottom lap seal that is joined by moisture from theproduct discharged from the horn. In some embodiments, the apparatus can also include a control module, a derucker pressure regulator and a brake pressure regulator, each operatively associated with the derucker. In operation, the control module cancontrol the selective operation of the pressure regulators, the derucker stroke cycle and the derucker brake operation.
In some embodiments, the apparatus can also include a roll support assembly mounted above an upstream portion of the horn. The roll support assembly can include a bar configured to hold a consumable roll of edible casing material andcontinuously supply the casing material to the forming collar with the overlapping axially extending edges of the casing material being held under the horn. In particular embodiments, the apparatus may also include a spray assembly mounted to the rollsupport assembly. The spray assembly may include a plurality of spaced apart spray nozzles disposed upstream of the bar and configured to spray liquid onto the casing material as the casing material enters the forming collar. In particular embodiments,the casing horn is configured to pivot from side-to-side and/or laterally outward while held in a substantially horizontal or level configuration with the casing horn flow channel and pivot head flow passage in fluid communication.
Other embodiments are directed to derucker assemblies that cooperate with a netting chute to automatically draw netting to a downstream location on the netting chute. The assemblies include a horizontal slide assembly in communication with thepair of netting grippers. The horizontal slide assembly comprising a slide support and a horizontal slide actuation cylinder for automatically reciprocating the netting grippers forward and rearward in a derucker stroke cycle. In operation, thederucker grippers travel in a downstream direction guided by the horizontal slide support while drawing netting in the downstream direction.
In some embodiments, the horizontal slide assembly can include first and second gripper actuation cylinders, a respective one attached to a respective one of the grippers. The grippers can be pivotably attached to a horizontal support bar thatis attached to the horizontal slide support. The gripper actuation cylinders can be configured to controllably pivot the grippers toward and away from opposing sides of the netting chute substantially in concert.
Still other embodiments are directed to computer program products. Some embodiments are directed to computer program products for operating a derucking device that cooperates with a supply of elastic netting material. The computer programproduct includes a computer readable storage medium having computer readable program code embodied in the medium. The computer-readable program code includes computer readable program code configured to direct the movement of a derucker assembly tocause the derucker to automatically reciprocally move between downstream and upstream locations to carry out a derucker stroke cycle.
In some embodiments, the computer program products include computer readable program code configured with two selective operational modes for a pair of gripping derucker arms, a braking mode or a derucking cycle mode. In particular embodiments,the program code is configured to control the pressure of a braking and derucker pressure regulator operatively associated with the gripping derucker arms.
Yet other embodiments are directed to systems for producing netting encased products. The systems include: (a) a releaseably mountable laterally pivotable horn that, in operation, is configured to be in fluid communication with a filler pumplocated upstream thereof, the horn configured and sized to flow semi-solid product therethrough; (b) a supply of edible casing material held in a roll above the horn; (c) a forming collar held over the horn and configured to cooperate with the roll ofcasing material and the horn to form and guide edible casing material over the circumference of the horn to define a generally tubular axially extending casing with overlapping edge portions; (d) a netting chute sized and configured to laterally pivot inconcert with the horn and to receive at least a portion of the horn therein so that the downstream end portions of the netting chute and horn terminate at substantially the same axial location, the netting chute being radially spaced apart from the hornto define a generally circumferential axially extending gap space through which the generally tubular casing material extends; (e) a sleeve of elastic netting material held on the netting chute; and (f) a derucker assembly having a pair of grippers thatare disposed on generally opposing side portions of the netting chute in communication with the netting material and the netting chute. In operation, the derucker assembly automatically reciprocally travels back and forth to pull short lengths ofnetting material from an upstream portion to a downstream end portion of the netting chute.
Still other embodiments are directed to edible casing assemblies adapted to be mounted to a structure holding a horn in fluid communication with a pump/filler. The assemblies include: (a) a frame configured to mount to the structure proximatean upstream portion of a product horn configured to pump semi-solid product therethrough; (b) a roller attached to the frame extending laterally across and above the horn, the roller configured to releasably hold a consumable supply of edible roll stock;(c) a casing forming collar mounted to the frame and extending about an exterior portion of the horn, wherein, the collar is configured to form the roll stock into a generally tubular shape with a lap seam disposed on an underside thereof; and (d) aplurality of spaced apart netting chute attachment members attached to a downstream portion of the frame, the netting chute attachment members configured to releasably hold the netting chute so that, in position, the netting chute extends in a downstreamdirection therefrom and receives at least a portion of the horn therein with the horn and netting chute being substantially concentrically aligned.
In some embodiments, the frame can be configured to attach to a pivotable horn such that the frame with the roller, the collar and, when attached, the netting chute, pivot laterally. In some embodiments, the plurality of attachment members mayinclude cone projection members configured and sized to extend through apertures on the netting chute and the assemblies may include a horizontal slide assembly.
Other embodiments are directed to spray assemblies configured to releasably mount to a packaging apparatus with a product horn. The spray assembly includes a plurality of spaced apart spray nozzles configured to spray liquid in a downstreamdirection onto a casing material as the casing material enters a forming collar.
In some embodiments, the spray nozzles are held on a curvilinear bar that is releasably detachable from a sheet roll assembly support disposed above the horn and the bar may have a width that is at least about as great as the width of the hornand hold the nozzles in spaced apart adjustable locations with adjustable spray angles with at least some of the nozzles residing at different horizontal and/or vertical heights than the others.
Still other embodiments are directed to insulated product horns configured to pump a desired product therethrough for packaging. The horn includes a plurality of substantially concentric spaced apart walls.
In some particular embodiments, the plurality of walls can be two axially extending walls that merge into opposing sealed portions that define a circumferentially extending sealed air chamber therebetween (i.e., a double walled horn). In someother embodiments, the insulated gap can comprise other insulating materials such as foam, plastic beads, elastomeric materials or other suitable insulating materials including fluids and/or gases.
It is noted that embodiments described with respect to a particular type of implementation can be implemented in other ways, such as for example, where embodiments are described as methods those features can be implemented as computer programproducts and/or hardware or software devices. These and other objects and/or aspects of the present invention are explained in detail in the specification set forth below.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1A is a front view of an exemplary apparatus according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 1B is a top view of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1A.
FIG. 1C is a right-hand side view of the device shown in FIGS. 1A and 1B.
FIG. 2 is an enlarged right hand view of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1A.
FIG. 3 is a partial front view of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1A with certain housing guards omitted, according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 4 is a top view of the portion of the apparatus shown in FIG. 3.
FIG. 5 is a rear view of the portion of the apparatus shown in FIG. 3.
FIG. 6 is a side perspective view of a portion of the apparatus shown in FIG. 3.
FIG. 7 is a side perspective view of a portion of an exemplary device according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 8 is a side perspective view of a portion of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1A, looking upstream from a position proximate the netting chute according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 9 is a side perspective view of a portion of the apparatus shown in FIG. 7, looking downstream from a position proximate the ingress portion of the horn.
FIG. 10A is a greatly enlarged portion of a horn latch lever assembly according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 10B is an exemplary horn latch assembly shown in FIG. 10A according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 11 is a side perspective view of an apparatus similar to the device shown in FIG. 1A, illustrating that certain components may be configured to laterally pivot for loading and/or service according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 12 is a top view of a horn assembly illustrating an exemplary laterally pivoted load configuration according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 13 is a side perspective view (looking upstream) of an exemplary apparatus illustrating the netting horn and product horn being concurrently pivoted outward for access and illustrating a quantity of product captured in the casing andsurrounded by netting according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 14A is a side perspective view of another portion of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1A, with the housing guards omitted according to some embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 14B is a side view of a portion of the clipper shown in FIG. 14A according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 14C is a rear view of a portion of the clipper shown in FIG. 14A according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 15 is a perspective view of a roll support frame assembly according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 16 is a perspective view of an edible casing assembly which may be modularized according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 17 is a left hand side view (looking upstream) of the assembly shown in FIG. 15.
FIG. 18 is a side perspective view of a collar and netting chute frame assembly according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 19 is a perspective view of a forming collar according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 20 is a schematic illustration of a casing travel path as it is formed from roll stock into a generally tubular casing shape according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 21 is a perspective view of a derucker according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 22 is a front view of the derucker shown in FIG. 21.
FIG. 23 is a top view of the derucker shown in FIG. 21.
FIG. 24A is a right-hand view (looking downstream) of the derucker shown in FIG. 21.
FIG. 24B illustrates the derucker shown in FIG. 24A with the derucker mounted to the apparatus and the housing guards open.
FIG. 25 is an illustration of exemplary bulbous products with different shapes that can be produced according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 26 is a flow chart of exemplary operations that may be carried out according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 27A is a front view of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1A with a different horn configuration releasably mounted thereto according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIG. 27B is a front view of the apparatus shown in FIGS. 1A and 27A with yet another horn configuration releasably mounted thereto according to embodiments of the present invention.
FIGS. 28-30 are block diagrams of data processing systems according to embodiments of the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION
The present invention will now be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying figures, in which embodiments of the invention are shown. This invention may, however, be embodied in many different forms and should not beconstrued as limited to the embodiments set forth herein. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout. In the figures, certain layers, components or features may be exaggerated for clarity, and broken lines illustrate optional features or operationsunless specified otherwise. In addition, the sequence of operations (or steps) is not limited to the order presented in the claims or figures unless specifically indicated otherwise. Where used, the terms "attached", "connected", "contacting","coupling" and the like, can mean either directly or indirectly, unless stated otherwise. The term "concurrently" means that the operations are carried out substantially simultaneously.
In the description of the present invention that follows, certain terms are employed to refer to the positional relationship of certain structures relative to other structures. As used herein, the terms "front," "forward" and derivativesthereof refer to the general or primary direction that the filler or product travels in a production line to form an encased product; this term is intended to be synonymous with the term "downstream," which is often used in manufacturing or material flowenvironments to indicate that certain material traveling or being acted upon is farther along in that process than other material. Conversely, the terms "rearward," "upstream" and derivatives thereof refer to the directions opposite, respectively, theforward and downstream directions.
Unless otherwise defined, all terms (including technical and scientific terms) used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs. It will be further understood thatterms, such as those defined in commonly used dictionaries, should be interpreted as having a meaning that is consistent with their meaning in the context of the specification and relevant art and should not be interpreted in an idealized or overlyformal sense unless expressly so defined herein.
The term "frame" means a generally skeletal structure used to support one or more assemblies, modules and/or components. The term "modular" means that a subassembly is designed with standardized dimensions, mounting features and/orconfigurations for interchangeable use with other equipment. In certain embodiments, the apparatus can employ a releasably attachable casing module that is configured to have the same centerline as a horn and may be selectively mounted on a "heat-seal"or other type of pumpable product/casing supply apparatus. The term "automated" means that the apparatus is configured to carry out most actions via automated control (i.e., pumping, encasing, voiding, clipping) without requiring ongoing manualassistance.
The casing can be any suitable casing (edible or inedible, natural or synthetic) such as, but not limited to, collagen, cellulose, plastic, elastomeric and/or polymeric casing. However, embodiments of the present invention may be particularlysuited for use with edible and/or process-dissolvable, -resorbable and/or -absorbable casing materials. In some embodiments, the apparatus or methods can employ edible roll stock comprising a collagen film or a dissolvable protein sheet (which istypically less flexible and more paper-like than the collagen film). The process-dissolvable protein may be configured to be absorbed and/or dissolved during cooking.
When using rolls of protein sheet, it may be desirable to apply moisture during the forming of the flat roll of casing material into a generally tubular casing material. However, when forming using collagen film, moisture during the formingprocess is typically undesirable, albeit it is used after the casing is shaped to help moisture-seal the casing together about the product. In some embodiments, the film and protein sheet can be about 0.002 inches thick. The protein sheet and/or filmmay be configured to dissolve during processing.
The netting and casing enclosed product can be generally bulbous food product, typically a meat product. The present invention is particularly suitable for producing products that may also employ closure clips to seal products held in thenetting and casing. The product may be a linked chain of elongated extruded product held in a casing or a plurality of discrete products that can be formed into generally bulbous elongate shapes. Exemplary products include, but are not limited to,netted smoked and/or cooked ham, netted poultry, netted roasts, netted salami, netted sausages, netted cheese and the like.
Other embodiments of the present invention may be directed to seal other types of food (such as cheese) or other product in casing materials (which are also typically held in netting). Examples of other products include powders such as granularmaterials including grain, sugar, sand and the like or other flowable materials including wet pet food (similar to that held conventionally in cans) or other powder, granular, semi-solid and/or gelatinous materials. The product may be a packaged for anysuitable industry including food, aquaculture, agriculture, environment, chemical, explosives, or other applications.
Turning now to FIGS. 1A-1C, an exemplary packaging apparatus or system 10 is shown. As shown, the apparatus 10 includes a casing forming assembly 15, a product horn 20, a controller 25 with a user input (which can be configured as a HumanMachine Interface ("HMI")), a netting chute 30 (see also FIG. 8 illustrating a sleeve of netting 30s thereon), a derucker 40 and a clipper assembly 50 that can include a voider 53 (FIG. 14). The apparatus 10 may also include a conveyor 60 disposeddownstream of the netting chute 30. The apparatus 10 is configured to engage a pump and filling source (not shown) disposed upstream of the horn 20. The pump can be in communication with a portioner as is known to those of skill in the art.
As shown in FIG. 8, the netting 30s can be elastic and configured to stretch more in the radial direction than in the axial direction. As shown, the netting can be tightly held on the netting chute with the sleeve 30s configured to holdbunched, compressed or more gathered portions of the netting upstream of the egress portion of the chute 30.
In operation, during the pumping process, the casing is drawn off the product horn, stuffed with product, and concurrently encased in (elastic) netting. The moisture and/or exudates(s) in the product can cause the casing to cling to the productand seal the overlapping layers of the casing together along a lower lap seal. Typically the downstream end portion of the netting and casing is clipped or closed to capture the discharged product therein. As the product is discharged from the horn 20it expands the casing and netting to create a package shape. The netting is stretched tightly over the product with the casing therebetween. The netting can hold the package together-during the cooking or other subsequent process and can provide auniform, aesthetically appealing crosshatch pattern on the finished product. The size of the package formed can vary depending on the casing size, the length of time the filler is activated to discharge product, the tension of the netting, and/or theconveyor speed of the conveyor receiving and holding the encased product. Once the package is filled, the apparatus 10 can void a target portion of the package and apply one or more clips to the voided region of the package. Typically two clips areapplied and the package is severed between the clips using an automated knife, as is well known to those of skill in the art. However, a series of linked products can be formed (such as a product known as "beer balls") where a single clip is placedbetween the linked products and two clips can be applied to stop the linked package and start another series.
In some embodiments, the casing forming assembly 15 is configured as a modular assembly (see FIGS. 15 and 16) that can releasably mount to the frame 10f or structure of a conventional apparatus that runs a different type of food product and/or adifferent type of casing. For example, the modular assembly 15 can mount to and operate with certain components of a conventional RS4203 packaging apparatus available from Tipper Tie, Inc. located in Apex, N.C.
Turning again to FIGS. 1A-1C, the forming assembly 15 includes an upwardly extending frame 15f that can releasably mount to the frame 10f of the apparatus 10. The forming assembly 15 is configured to releasably hold a roller 18 that holds asupply of consumable roll stock 88 (FIGS. 1B, 7 and 20) so that the roller 18 and roll stock 88 extend generally laterally across the top of the horn 20. The forming assembly 15 can include a horizontally extending bracket 16 that holds the roller 18above and proximate an intermediate to upstream portion of the underlying horn 20.
The forming assembly 15 also includes a forming collar 17 (also known as a forming shoulder) that extends about a portion of the horn 20 and cooperates with the roll stock 88 to convert the generally flat roll stock material into a generallytubular casing as the material 88 travels downstream over the horn 20 guided by the forming collar 17. The collar 17 can be mounted substantially concentrically with respect to the horn 20 and is disposed upstream of the netting chute 30. The collar 17and sheet stock 88 can be configured to direct opposing long edge portions of the roll stock 88 to travel together to overlap on a lower surface of the casing, typically at an underside portion of the casing as the casing material is drawn downstream. The seam overlap may remain unsealed or may seal to define a moisture-sealed lap joint upon contact with moisture and/or exudates from the product in the horn 20 as the product exits the horn 20 (and netting chute 30). For most edible casings, no activeheat sealing will be required or used.
The horn 20 can include at least a forward or downstream portion that is configured as a double-walled horn (or even greater number of walls) with a sealed air and/or insulated gap space between the inner wall and the outer wall thereof toinhibit moisture forming on the outer wall (from the product in the horn). The double walled horn 20 may be particularly useful where collagen film casing is employed. In some embodiments, the insulated gap can comprise other insulating materials suchas foam, plastic beads, elastomeric materials or other suitable insulating materials including fluids and/or gases. The insulating material can be formed on the inner primary surface of the outer wall or the outer primary surface of the inner wallbefore the walls are joined. In other embodiments, the insulating material can be flowed into the chamber after the tubes are joined.
As shown in FIGS. 3-5, 15 and 17, in some embodiments, the frame 15f can also be configured to releasably mount the netting chute 30 thereto. For example, the frame 15f can employ bayonet style mounting configurations, which allow positivepositioning and provide for a relatively quick mount and release system. Referring to FIG. 11, the netting chute 30 is shown as it approaches the horn. 20 to receive the horn 20 therein. The netting chute 30 can include mounting apertures 30a thatengage the frame 15f for mounting thereto. The frame 15h can include forwardly oriented projections 19 which are configured to enter the apertures 30a and provide a quick mount (and quick release) configuration. Referring to FIG. 17, the apertures 30acan be configured with a smaller segment 30s1 that merges into a larger receiving segment 30s2. To load the netting chute 30, the larger segments 30s2 are aligned with corresponding projections 19 and the apertures 30s2 slid thereon. Once the projections 19 extend through the aperture 30a, i.e., typically through a respective larger segment 30s2, the horn 30 can be rotated to place the projections in the smaller segments 30s2 and a locking member 119 can apply force to holdthe chute 30 in the operative position. The locking member 119 can have a pivot 119p that allows it to rotate in and out of operative position. The mounting configuration is configured to provide ease of insertion and tighter engagement of the nettingchute 30 for a more precise centerline alignment with the product horn 20 during operation.
In some embodiments, as shown for example in FIGS. 15, 16 and 18, the projections 19 may have a generally conical shape (i.e., cone-like or tapered projections such as generally frustoconical shapes) that are sized and configured to enter thenetting chute apertures 30a.
In position, the netting chute 30 is configured to receive at least a portion of the horn 20 therein; typically the netting chute 30 is configured to receive at least a major portion of the horn 20 therein. The horn 20 and netting chute 30typically terminate at the same axial downstream location. In some embodiments, the downstream portion of the horn 20 may extend out of the netting chute 30 or the netting chute 30 may extend a further downstream axial distance than the horn 20.
The frame 15f can be configured to hold the netting chute 30 so that it is substantially concentrically aligned with the horn 20. As shown in FIGS. 6 and 13, the netting chute 30 and horn 20 can define an axially extending circumferential gapspace 21 through which the generally tubular casing travels (in tubular form) during operation as the casing is drawn downstream under the collar 17 and over the horn 20. The gap space 21 may span a width of between about 0.25-0.4 inches and the casingmaterial can be timed to be drawn generally concurrently with/during a pumping operation. Generally stated, the apparatus 10 can be configured to form a length of generally tubular casing in situ, pump product into the casing and enclose the casing innetting. The casing is threaded about the horn 20 and forming collar 17. The upstream (single-wall) portion of the horn 20 can act as a relief zone for the material 88 to transition from the flat roll to round form with the lap seal on the bottomportion of the horn 20.
Referring to FIGS. 11-13, the horn 20 can be configured to laterally pivot via a horn rotor assembly or horn pivot assembly 20p. FIG. 12 illustrates that the horn 20 can pivot to a load position that is about 20-30 degrees from the operativein-line position. An example of a horn pivot/rotor assembly 20p is described in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/729,282, the contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference as if recited in full herein. Similarly, as shown in FIGS. 11 and13, the assembly 15 and netting chute 30 can be mounted to the horn 20 so that the assembly 15 and chute 30 also laterally pivot in concert with the horn 20 responsive to movement of the horn 20.
FIG. 12 illustrates that the horn pivot assembly 20p can include a mounting plate 125 that releasably engages the frame 15h. FIGS. 11 and 18 illustrate that the frame 15h can include mounting tabs 126 that are sized and configured to snugly fitover the plate 125. Side locking members 127 (which may comprise cam locks fasteners) can be used to lock the frame 15h to the horn pivot bracket 125 and allow the frame 15h to laterally pivot with the horn 20 to allow an operator to have easier accessto the horn 20 and/or 30.
FIGS. 10A and 10B show that the apparatus 10 can include a horn latch lever assembly 120 that can provide a positive latch for the pivot assembly 20p to inhibit or prevent inadvertent movement of the horn 20. The horn latch lever assembly 120can comprise an actuation cylinder 122, a rocker arm lever 120l, a detent roller 120r and a latch plate 120lp. The apparatus 10 can also include a proximity sensor 121 that detects when the horn is in operative position to inhibit pumping until the horn20 is in alignment. Once in alignment, the actuation cylinder 122 can extend, lowering the latch lever arm 120l that positions the detent roller 120r on the latch plate 120, thereby applying a locking pressure at the latch point 120lp. In someembodiments, the actuator 122 can be configured to provide a generally constant bias pressure that can be overcome by intentional movement to the laterally pivoted configuration. In other embodiments, the cylinder 122 can be configured to automaticallyprovide and remove the pressure based on HMI commands and/or proximity sensor data. Combinations of the operational features of the latch may also be used.
FIGS. 7 and 9 illustrate that the frame 15h can also hold a plurality of spaced-apart spray nozzles 95 that are oriented to spray a fluid (typically a liquid such as water) onto the casing material 88 as the material enters the forming collar17. The spray nozzles 95 can be adjustable in position and/or spray direction. That is, the spray nozzles 95 can be held on a bar so that each can be adjustably rotated and/or moved (up and/or down or laterally across) the bar 95b. As shown, six spraynozzles 95 are spaced to cover substantially the entire width of the roll sheet 88 and so that some reside vertically above the others. Lesser or greater numbers of nozzles 95 can be used. In addition other mounting configurations may also be used. The spray nozzles 95 can be automatically activated to spray concurrently only when the casing is being drawn downstream, i.e., with the pumping and voiding of product through the horn 20 and/or with the forming of the casing material 88 (and to beinactive during non-pumping periods). The spray nozzles 95 may be particularly useful for edible and/or dissolvable rice paper or protein casing sheets and the like, but may be less desirable for collagen film applications.
FIG. 14A illustrates the clipper 50 and derucker 40 proximate a downstream or egress portion of the netting chute 30 (and product horn 20). As is well known to those of skill in the art, the clipper 50 cooperates with a voider 53 comprisingvoider plates that void the casing prior to applying one or more clips using the clipper 50. In some embodiments, the clipper 50 can include gathering plates that help gather the casing and netting into a rope like segment prior to applying the clip(s). The product can be caught on a conveyor 60 that moves the encased product downstream of the clipper 50. The speed of the conveyor 60, size of the horn 20, pump speed, netting size and elasticity and the like can be adjusted to consistently provide thedesired product shape (see, e.g., FIG. 25).
FIG. 14B illustrates that the clipper 50 can include a clipper gate 56 with gathering plates 57 thereon configured to help gather the netting and casing material into a suitably tight gathered rope form for clipping. FIG. 14C illustrates thatthe clipper 50 can have two spaced apart clip channels 50ch with the gathering plates 57 disposed intermediate thereof. The gathering plates 57 are spaced apart a distance sufficient to define a knife slot 59s configured to allow a knife 59 with anactuation cylinder 59c (FIG. 14B) that automatically extends and retracts the knife 59 through the knife slot 59s (FIG. 14B) to automatically sever the gathered material between the clipped package portions. Examples of suitable clips include metallicgenerally "U"-shaped clips available from Tipper Tie, Inc., in Apex, N.C. Other clips, clip materials and clip configurations may also be used. Examples of exemplary devices and apparatus used to void, clip or tension casing material are described inU.S. Pat. Nos. 4,847,953; 4,675,945; 5,074,386; 5,167,567; and 6,401,885, the contents of each of which are hereby incorporated by reference as if recited in full herein.
FIG. 15 illustrates one embodiment of a forming assembly 15. As shown, the forming assembly 15 includes a frame 15f, the casing roller support 18 (which may be releasably mounted to the frame 15f with bayonet style mounts), the netting chutemounting members 19, the forming collar 17 and the netting chute 30.
FIG. 16 illustrates that, in some embodiments, the forming assembly 15 may also include a derucker assembly 40. That is, the derucker assembly 40 may be configured to mount to the apparatus 10 and cooperate with the netting chute 30 and casingmodule 15 so that, during pumping, the derucker assembly 40 can automatically retract and extend to pull lengths of the sleeve material 30s in a downstream direction proximate the egress portion of the netting chute 30. The derucker assembly 40 can bein communication with a controller such as an HMI (Human Machine Interface) as will be discussed below. The derucker assembly 40 can also be configured to act as a braking assembly that pinches the netting against the chute 30 at desired intervals, suchas during a voiding/clipping operation. The derucker assembly 40 can be configured to automatically switch between a derucker operation mode and braking operation mode.
As shown in FIGS. 16 and 21, the derucker assembly 40 (also called the "derucker") is configured to controllably move vertically (shown by arrow "V") and horizontally (shown by arrow "H") about slide assemblies 43 and 44, respectively. Thederucker assembly 40 can be configured to releasably attach or mount to the frame 10f of the apparatus 10 (FIG. 1). As shown, the derucker assembly 40 includes a pair of arms 41, 42 that are configured to span the chute 30 and are configured to travelrepeatedly and automatically through a derucker stroke cycle. The stroke cycle is configured so that the arms 41, 42 travel laterally toward each other to a contact configuration at a first location (that may be called a start position) whereby the arms41, 42 engage, grip, pinch and/or grasp the netting with sufficient force on generally opposing side portions of the chute 30 so as to be able to pull or draw a segment of sleeve material downstream as the arms 41, 42 travel substantially in concert inthe contact configuration to a second location (that can be called an end position) that is axially downstream of the first location. At the downstream second location, which is typically proximate the egress or discharge end portion of the chute 30,the arms 41, 42 travel laterally away from each other (and the chute 30) to release the netting, then travel in a non-contact configuration as they return to the first starting location whereby they can engage a second segment of netting. The arms 41,42 can include grippers 41g, 42g that are configured to contact the netting on the chute 30. The grippers 41g, 42g can comprise an elastomeric and/or increased friction material. The derucking stroke cycle can provide a more uniform distribution ofnetting or tension in the netting proximate the discharge end of the chute 30 as the product is being pumped.
FIGS. 16 and 21-24B illustrate that the derucker assembly 40 can include a vertical slide assembly 43 and a horizontal slide assembly 44. The arms 41, 42 can mount to the horizontal slide assembly 44 to reciprocally move the arms between thefirst and second locations during a derucking operational mode. The horizontal slide assembly 44 and arms 41, 42 can mount to the vertical slide assembly 43. As shown in FIGS. 21, 22 and 24A, the vertical slide assembly 43 can include a cylinder 43cand a vertical path defined by rods 481, 482. Referring to FIG. 16, in operation, the cylinder 43c rod drives the horizontal slide 44 up the vertical slide 43 so that the derucker assembly 40 is raised above and out of the way of the horn 20to allow the chute 30 (and horn 20) to be pivoted in a generally horizontal plane out to a loading position. This facilitates the loading of elastic netting on the chute 30 and/or the loading of the chute 30 over the product horn 20 and the threading ofthe casing between the two horns 20, 30, respectively during start-up. The vertical movement can be manually carried out or automated.
FIGS. 16 and 21-24A show the horizontal assembly 44 that includes a cylinder 44c and a horizontal slide 44s (FIGS. 21 and 22). The arms 41, 42 and respective cylinders 41c, 42c extend out from the slide 44s and the cylinder 44c reciprocallymoves the arms 41, 42 in the derucking mode. The arms 41, 42 are pivotably mounted to a sliding frame member 46 as shown in FIG. 24A to controllably pivot the arms 41, 42 and grippers 41g, 42g between closed and open configurations during the deruckingstroke cycle. Referring to FIGS. 21 and 22, the horizontal slide 44s can be configured to define the generally horizontal travel path and axial stroke limits of the grippers 41g, 42g. The first and second locations of the derucker stroke cycle can beadjustable as well as the pressure, and frequency or speed of the stroke.
Once the horns 20, 30 are rotated into axial alignment and pumping position, along the product centerline of the apparatus, the vertical slide assembly 43 can lower the horizontal slide assembly 44 with arms 41, 42 to position the grippers 41g,42g below an uppermost boundary or perimeter portion of the chute 30 to place the respective grippers 41g, 42g on generally opposing side portions of the chute 30. The horizontal slide assembly 44 then moves generally horizontally from the first (start)to the second (stop) location. As shown in FIG. 22, at least one proximity sensor 49 can be used to relay data regarding the position of the slide assembly 44 to automatically direct the grippers 41g, 42g to close against (or open away from) the chute30. FIG. 22 illustrates two axially spaced apart sensors 49i, 492, but one or more than two sensors may be used. The force of the grip can be adjusted via a pressure regulator that is configured to supply pressure to the gripper cylinders41c, 42c.
In some embodiments, the derucking assembly 40 can also operate in a braking mode to apply a braking force to compress or pinch the netting proximate the discharge portion of the chute 30 during the clipping/voiding operation. The brakingpressure may be greater than the derucking pressure applied by the grippers 41g, 42g and the arms 41, 42 can remain in a target static location for a desired braking interval. Typically the arms 41, 42 are directed to travel forward while open from thefirst location to a braking region, then close against the sides of the chute 30 for the desired braking interval. The braking mode may be automatically initiated in response to ceasing pumping and/or initiating a voiding operation.
Referring to FIG. 24B, the derucker assembly 40 can include a derucking pressure regulator 40p1 and a separate braking pressure regulator 40p2 that are in communication with the gripper arm cylinders 41c, 42c to control the pressure ofa braking and derucker pressures applied by the grippers 41, 42. The pressures in the different braking and derucking modes can be automatically controlled with the gripper arms deployed to carry out the appropriate braking or derucker cycle operationalmode. In other embodiments, a common pressure regulator can be used and different pressure regulation control means may be configured to apply the desired pressure to the grippers 41g, 42g.
The apparatus 10 can be configured to run generally automatically and continuously over a desired interval (typically between at least about 45-60 minutes, depending on the length of the roll stock and/or netting sleeve). In some embodiments,the apparatus can produce about 10-20, typically about 16, pieces of packaged product per minute (the packaged product typically averaging 3-6 lbs, but can vary).
Generally described, to initiate the edible casing operation, the horn 20 can be mounted to the frame 10f (FIG. 1A), then laterally pivoted to the access or load configuration (FIG. 12). The roll stock 88 can be threaded over the horn 20between the horn and chute 30 (FIGS. 11 and 13). The chute 30 is typically mounted to the frame 15f after a length of the stock 88 is drawn off the spool 18 and pulled a distance downstream. The netting can be pre-rucked on the chute 30 so that some ofthe netting extends off the discharge portion of the chute 30 and the chute 30 and horn 20 can be rotated in concert to the axially aligned operative position (FIG. 8). The operator can manually draw the casing (such as formed collagen film) and nettingthrough the voider plates 53 (FIGS. 8 and 14A). A priming quantity of product can be pumped through the horn 20 and excess fluid drained therefrom (which can be carried out prior to threading the casing as desired). The apparatus 10 can be cycledthrough a first (manually initiated) void and clip cycle that places two clips on the netting and casing. The gathered clipped netting can be cut apart between the two clips. This region between the two clips is sometimes described as the "tail" or endof the package. The first or forwardmost of the two clips forms the end of the forward (first) sealed product and the second or rearwardmost of the two clips forms the beginning of the next upstream package, which is now ready for filling which isrestarted. Once the clipped gathered edge is on a downstream first clip side of a package (netting and casing), the apparatus is ready for automatic operation. The operator can select the automatic run mode (such as by pushing an automatic start button25b, seen in FIG. 1A) to initiate the automatic operation of filling, voiding, and clipping.
The apparatus 10 can be configured to mount other horns and run different casing types, such as a heat seal horn and a shirred casing horn. Thus, the apparatus can be a multi-modal device that accepts at least two different horns, and typicallyat least three different horns as will be discussed further below, each operating using the same HMI 25 (FIG. 1A) and clipper/voider assembly to allow more manufacturing adaptivity. One horn that may be configured to provide casings can be one thatprocesses a slug-type natural or artificial casing that unwinds, advances, stretches and/or pulls to form the elongate casing over the desired product. Another type of casing is a heat-sealed tubular elastomeric casing formed by seaming a thin sheet offlexible material, typically polymeric material, together.
For one of the interchangeable horn types, a typical shined casing strand or chain lengths can be between about 1-6 feet. See, e.g., U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,543,378, 5,167,567, 5,067,313, and 5,181,302, the contents of which are hereby incorporatedby reference as if recited in full herein. Examples of elastomeric tubular casing forming apparatus and an associated heat-sealing horn are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,085,036 and 5,203,760, the contents of which are hereby incorporated byreference.
Alternatively, the apparatus 10 can be configured as a single mode apparatus dedicated to shaping edible casing in situ while packaging the casing captured product in netting and gathering forward (leading) and/or rearward (trailing) packageportions to define a clipped package product, such as those shown in FIG. 25.
FIG. 26 describes some operations that can be used to carry out certain embodiments of the present invention. A portion of a generally tubular horn is positioned inside a generally tubular netting chute (block 200). An edible, generally flatroll of casing material is formed into a generally tubular casing that extends in an axial direction about the horn (block 205). Food emulsion is pumped through the horn (block 210). A target amount of food emulsion is encased in the casing material asthe food emulsion exits the horn (block 215). Short lengths of a sleeve of netting material held on the netting chute are repetitively automatically drawn downstream or forward toward a discharge end portion of the netting chute during the pumping step(block 220). The encased food emulsion is enclosed in the netting material (block 225). The food can be generally concurrently enclosed in the casing and the overlayer of netting as the food exits the horn.
The edible flat roll of casing material can be a roll of collagen film or a roll of a paper-like protein sheet (block 206). The forming step can comprise overlapping the outermost long edge portions of the flat sheet at an underside portion ofthe horn, then moisture sealing the generally tubular casing at an underside portion thereof upon contact with the food emulsion (block 207).
FIG. 27A shows a second horn assembly 20' releasably mounted to the apparatus 10. The second horn assembly 20' typically includes a forming shoulder on an upstream end portion that guides and/or shapes elastomeric roll stock (not shown)typically posited under the horn 20' and cooperates with a heat seal assembly to substantially conform to the shape of the tubular horn as the material travels away from the forming shoulder and hence wrap the elastomeric or other desired material aroundthe horn 20'. FIG. 27B illustrates a third horn assembly 20'' and related components mounted to the apparatus 10. As shown, the third horn assembly configuration 20'' comprises serially connecting components including an intermediate pipe segment 22pthat can attach to a casing horn 22h. The third horn assembly 20'' is typically configured to run with different casing (non-seamed or slugs) materials such as shirred fibrous casings placed over the casing horn 22h. The clipper 50 is typicallydisposed downstream of the horns 20', 22h and is illustrated schematically in FIGS. 27A and 27B. Additional description of the horn assemblies 20', 20'' and the apparatus 10 can be found in co-assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/729,282, thecontents of which is incorporated by reference as if recited in full herein.
FIGS. 28-30 are block diagrams of exemplary embodiments of data processing systems that illustrate systems, methods, and/or computer program products in accordance with embodiments of the present invention. The operation and sequence of eventscan be controlled by a programmable logic controller. The operational mode or certain input features can be selected by an operator input using a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to communicate with the controller as is well known to those of skill in theart.
The processor 138 communicates with the memory 136 via an address/data bus 248. The processor 138 can be any commercially available or custom microprocessor. The memory 136 is representative of the overall hierarchy of memory devicescontaining the software and data used to implement the functionality of the data processing system 405. The memory 136 can include, but is not limited to, the following types of devices: cache, ROM, PROM, EPROM, EEPROM, flash memory, SRAM, and DRAM.
As shown in FIGS. 28-30, the memory 136 may include several categories of software and data used in the data processing system 405: the operating system 252; the application programs 254; the input/output (I/O) device drivers 258; and the data256. The memory may also include one or more of a Brake or Derucker Mode Run Selection Module 260a (FIG. 28), a Derucker Reciprocating Stroke Control Module 260b (FIG. 29), and/or a Derucker Stroke Adjustment Module 260c (FIG. 30). The Modules can beautomatic or configured to accept user input to select the operational sequence associated with the casing and/or horn type in use and/or to control certain operations of the components for automatic or semi-automatic operation. For example, one or moreof the modules 260a, 260b, and 260c can accept proximity sensor data, pumping status, clipper status and the like.
In some embodiments, the module 260c is configured to allow a user to select certain parameters associated with a desired derucking stroke cycle. For example, a user can select a desired repetition frequency (speed), repetition cycles persleeve and/or per product, gripper contact force, stroke distance, and the like.
The data 256 may include a look-up chart of different casing run times (i.e., for a type of netting or edible casing formed in situ, as well as the product, the product filling rate, selectable product weight, length and the like correspondingto particular or target products for one or more producers. The data 256 may include data from a proximity sensor and/or exhaustion of casing or netting material detector that allows the computer program to automatically control the operation of thepumping apparatus to inhibit discharging product when casing material has been expended or during a clipping cycle.
As will be appreciated by those of skill in the art, the operating system 252 may be any operating system suitable for use with a data processing system, such as OS/2, AIX, DOS, OS/390 or System390 from International Business MachinesCorporation, Armonk, N.Y., Windows CE, Windows NT, Windows95, Windows98 or Windows2000 from Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Wash., Unix or Linux or FreeBSD, Palm OS from Palm, Inc., Mac OS from Apple Computer, LabView, or proprietary operating systems. The I/O device drivers 258 typically include software routines accessed through the operating system 252 by the application programs 254 to communicate with devices such as I/O data port(s), data storage 256 and certain memory 136 components. Theapplication programs 254 are illustrative of the programs that implement the various features of the data processing system 405 and preferably include at least one application which supports operations according to embodiments of the present invention. Finally, the data 256 represents the static and dynamic data used by the application programs 254, the operating system 252, the I/O device drivers 258, and other software programs that may reside in the memory 136.
While the present invention is illustrated, for example, with reference to the Modules 260a, 260b, 260c being an application program in FIGS. 28-30, as will be appreciated by those of skill in the art, other configurations may also be utilizedwhile still benefiting from the teachings of the present invention. For example, the Modules 260a, 260b, 260c may also be incorporated into the operating system 252, the I/O device drivers 258 or other such logical division of the data processing system405. Thus, the present invention should not be construed as limited to the configurations of FIGS. 28-30, which are intended to encompass any configuration capable of carrying out the operations described herein.
The I/O data port can be used to transfer information between the data processing system 405 and certain components associated with the apparatus or mounted to the apparatus, which may use data from the HMI. The apparatus may have a common HMIor different controllers and the system 405 can communicate with same, such as a controller associated with the voiding/clipping or closure attachment mechanism or another computer system or a network (e.g., the Internet) or to other devices controlledby the processor. These components may be conventional components such as those used in many conventional data processing systems which may be configured in accordance with the present invention to operate as described herein.
For example, the data processing system can be a computer program product with computer readable program code configured to provide a plurality of different predetermined operational modes of an apparatus that releaseably mounts different hornconfigurations to supply different casings and a flowable product and computer readable program code configured to select one of the predetermined operational modes responsive to whether a first horn with a first casing material or a second casing hornwith a second casing material different from the first casing material is in communication with the apparatus.
In particular embodiments, the computer readable program code is configured to accept user input to identify the type of casing material selected for deployment and/or a selection of the operational mode with either the first or second horn. Inaddition, the computer readable program code can be configured to inhibit operation until the desired horn is in proper operative position and or to actuate the latch cylinder for the horn-rotor mechanism. In certain embodiments, the computer readableprogram code that inhibits operation comprises computer readable program code configured to obtain and analyze data from a proximity sensor positioned to automatically detect when the horn is in an operative horizontally aligned position.
In addition, the computer readable program code can be configured to automatically identify when a casing supply on the forming assembly is exhausted. For example, the computer readable program code can be configured to monitor and/or detectwhen a limit switch is triggered responsive to force applied to a lead attached to a trailing edge portion of the supply of casing material or netting as the trailing edge portion advances.
In certain embodiments, the computer program can include computer readable program code configure to supply sheet roll stock to the first horn and form the roll stock into a tubular casing configuration in situ and/or computer readable programcode that allows a manual stop and start to interrupt product flow to feed serially positioned slugs of fibrous casing material on the second horn. In addition, the computer program can include program code configured to control product flow from a pumppositioned upstream of the apparatus to direct the product to flow through one of the first horn or second horn, responsive to which is installed in communication with the apparatus. In particular embodiments, the program can include program code thatautomatically identifies the desired operational mode by detecting which horn is in position on the apparatus.
While the present invention is illustrated, for example, with reference to particular divisions of programs, functions and memories, the present invention should not be construed as limited to such logical divisions. Thus, the present inventionshould not be construed as limited to the configurations of FIGS. 28-30 but is intended to encompass any configuration capable of carrying out the operations described herein.
The flowcharts and block diagrams of certain of the figures herein illustrate the architecture, functionality, and operation of possible implementations of selective implementation of single and dual clip closure means according to the presentinvention. In this regard, each block in the flow charts or block diagrams represents a module, segment, or portion of code, which comprises one or more executable instructions for implementing the specified logical function(s). It should also be notedthat in some-alternative implementations, the functions noted in the blocks may occur out of the order noted in the figures. For example, two blocks shown in succession may in fact be executed substantially concurrently or the blocks may sometimes beexecuted in the reverse order, depending upon the functionality involved.
The foregoing is illustrative of the present invention and is not to be construed as limiting thereof. Although a few exemplary embodiments of this invention have been described, those skilled in the art will readily appreciate that manymodifications are possible in the exemplary embodiments without materially departing from the novel teachings and advantages of this invention. Accordingly, all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of this invention as definedin the claims. In the claims, means-plus-function clauses, where used, are intended to cover the structures described herein as performing the recited function and not only structural equivalents but also equivalent structures. Therefore, it is to beunderstood that the foregoing is illustrative of the present invention and is not to be construed as limited to the specific embodiments disclosed, and that modifications to the disclosed embodiments, as well as other embodiments, are intended to beincluded within the scope of the appended claims. The invention is defined by the following claims, with equivalents of the claims to be included therein.